Excellence. Brilliance. Success. We often envision these statuses as the result of years of motivation, as the product of innate talent, or as a holy grail of accomplishment reserved for those willing to go on a heroic journey to find it.
What great minds are agreeing on, though — whether it’s Aristotle as quoted above, researchers at MIT, or Pulitzer Prize winning author Charles Duhigg — is that habit is one of the most powerful tools we have, even moreso than motivation. So, while a heroic journey may sound more romantic, a daily habit is actually a far more realistic way to attain that “holy grail.”
Why are habits so powerful?
As Charles Duhigg explains in his best-selling book, The Power of Habit, “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often… One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.” (Anyone who has accidentally driven towards work when attempting a weekend trip to the mall knows this to be true.)
We see real examples of this everyday in our own lives. The tasks we are most likely to do are the ones we do on “autopilot”: brush our teeth, pack lunches, get the mail – the list goes on.
When trying to accomplish something new then, why not employ this same process in our brain? Using the example of music lessons, we know that progress comes from playing and practicing your instrument. If you could make that a habit, rather than an act that required you to self-motivate, what would the result be? The answer: progress. Great progress, in fact.
Duhigg’s book goes on to explain “keystone habits” which are “habits that have the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits… Keystone habits explain how Michael Phelps became an Olympic champion and why some college students outperform their peers. They describe why some people, after years of trying, suddenly lose forty pounds while becoming more productive at work and still getting home in time for dinner with their kids.”
In the book, this concept of the keystone habit is applied to Michael Phelps. In his youth, Phelps was discovered by a local swimming coach, Bob Bowman. Bowman noted that Phelps had the ideal body type and obsessive nature for swimming, but all champions had that. He decided what he could offer the swimmer, and what would give him the right edge, would be “habits that would make him the strongest mental swimmer in the pool.”
The book explains, “He didn’t need to control every aspect of Phelps’s life. All he needed to do was target a few specific habits that had nothing to do with swimming and everything to do with creating the right mind-set. He designed a series of behaviors that Phelps could use to become calm and focused before each race, to find those tiny advantages that, in a sport where victory can come in milliseconds, would make all the difference.”
These habits began with a mental “videotape” of the perfect race, and grew to include a series a stretches and warm-ups, headphones with a pre-race music mix (that any Olympic watchers reading this have likely noticed), and so much more. Applying this back to music lessons, we’re pretty sure Michael’s practice habits were strong, too (to say the least).
How to form a habit (and how to apply it to music lessons).
Research has shown that habits include three basic components: a cue (perhaps leaving your sneakers by the front door to remind you to hit the gym that morning), the routine itself (exercising) and a reward (maybe an episode of your favorite show). For music students, this same approach can be applied to practicing: the cue could be as simple as finishing up dinner, the routine would be playing through the assignments spelled out by your teacher, and the reward could be wrapping up the session with your favorite MW music game, or putting a sticker on your Meridee Winters homework book. This cue/routine/reward system is actually a neurological process that leads to the formation of habits, but when you include music, stickers and games, it actually sounds… fun.
Even this brief glimpse into the power of habits shows how great a “secret weapon” they can be. Luckily, the formula for a winning habit is simple and the results are clear. Playing music is a skill that can bring instant creativity, academic success and lifelong benefits.
Why not make a habit of it?
About Meridee Winters:
Meridee Winters is a professional educator, musician, author and director/owner of a successful Philadelphia area music school.
Meridee began her journey as an educator teaching elementary students in a Florida public school, where she discovered the curriculum and school system left little room for divergence and creativity. She made the bold decision to leave and attend graduate school to study Music Composition, eventually starting her own private music school.
Today, that school has spent two decades introducing thousands of students to not just music, but to Meridee’s trailblazing method that encourages creativity, play and higher-level thinking with each lesson.
As a composer and professional musician, Meridee has instructed at all levels – from professional recording artists working on albums to computer music classes in the recording studio, and from young beginners taking their first steps on their musical path to intermediate students writing their first songs.
Meridee is a dedicated advocate of creative intelligence whose foremost passion is empowering creative and authentic self-expression in each individual. She now spends her time developing new materials and books to nurture these. She does her work as an author, as well as director of the school, from her home in Delaware County, PA.
© 2017 Meridee Winters. All Rights Reserved.
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